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Running a farm can be challenging enough, even if it is just a small hobby farm with a few goats on it. When you have goats, or for that matter any other type of livestock, you should also plan to have at least one dog trained to protect them from strangers and many other forms of predators. There are many breeds who make great guard dogs, those most commonly used are herding animals such as German shepherds, Great Pyrenees, Australian shepherds, and Welsh Corgis.
Dogs that are particularly good at guarding or protecting tend to be very stubborn, independent, and wary of strangers and other animals. Yet at the same time, they will form a strong bond with the livestock you place under their care. Once this bond has been formed, your dog will instinctively move to protect them. However, you will still need to train your dog to protect your goats.
The earlier you start to train your pup to protect your goats, the better. In fact, the prime age to start letting your pup build a bond with your goats is between 8 and 16 weeks of age. By letting him grow up around your goats and especially any kids, the stronger his bond will be. A good way to do this is by using a bonding pen where there is a protective area your pup can run to if he feels threatened. The idea is that, in time, your dog will start to see the goats under his protection as part of his "pack."
Dogs have a natural instinct to protect the members of his pack and by turning your goats into his "pack", your dog will be more diligent and ready to protect them from any type of danger. Be patient, this training is going to take some time and effort. The most important thing to remember is that there is a significant risk of injury to your dog or your goats.
Before you can start to train your pup to protect your goats, he needs to have mastered the basic commands including 'down', 'sit', 'stay', and 'come', as you will need to be able to use them to control him during and after the training has been completed. When it comes to supplies, you don't need much:
- Leash: A long leash is a good idea.
- Treats: As rewards.
- Goats: A small number of goats that are already comfortable around dogs.
- Bonding pen: You can make this yourself, just be sure there is a safe place for your pup to go if he feels threatened.
- Time and patience: Just like any other type of training, you are going to need plenty of both.
The most important thing to remember is that during training there is a significant risk of injury to your dog or your goats. Be sure to keep a close eye on both and intervene before anything can happen. If your dog is injured, you may not be able to train him to work with the goats or it will be much harder.
The Create a Bond Method
Set up a pen
Set up a pen in your barn for your pup to spend time in when you are not available to supervise him around your goats.
Let him acclimatize
Give your pup plenty of time to get used to the goats, their smells, their sounds, and just their presence. He can even touch noses with them once everyone gets brave and close enough for this to happen.
Spend some time playing with your pup in an enclosure with the goats, letting him burn off any excess energy and calming down. Then it's time to get down to business.
By now your dog and goats should be used to being around each other and you should be able to leave them alone together. Keep a close eye on him to ensure he does not misbehave. By now he should be more prone to protect his "friends" than bother them.
Time to test him
With the goats out in their pen and your dog in with them, have a friend he doesn't know come up to the fence and make lots of noise. Your dog should naturally move to protect his "pack" and start barking at the intruder. When he does, be sure to praise and reward him. Keep repeating this process over the course of several months and you should end up with a valuable member of your family that will protect his flock at all costs.
The Make Friends Method
This training method assumes you already have a trained guard dog or a friend you can borrow one from. This will allow you to put the two of them together with a small flock of your goats in a pen.
The trained dog will help your pup to become used the goats and how to behave around them. The trained dog will not allow your pup to "bother" the goats. Do this in a small enclosed pen.
Keep your pup near you
No matter where you go on your farm or what you are doing, take your pup with you. This will help him to get used to the normal sights and sounds so that he can differentiate between what is normal and what is not.
Make use of his natural instincts
Your pup has a natural instinct to protect his pack. By allowing him to bond with your goats, you are essentially giving him his own "pack" to protect, all you have to do is reinforce the behavior.
Now that your pup is used to being around the goats along with all of the sights and sounds of the farm, its time to finish the training. This is where you have strangers come up to the farm and approach the goats. At this point, his instinct to protect should kick in and he should start keeping a close eye on the stranger. Repeat this until he will do this every time a strange person or animal approaches. Be sure to use lots of treats and praise to encourage this behavior.
The Social Experiment Method
In the pen
When your pup reaches approximately eight weeks of age, start putting him in a pen along with a small number of your calmest goats.
Leave them alone
It might not seem like a good idea at first, but put your pup in the pen with 3 to 6 goats and leave them alone. This "bonding" time is vital as it will give all of them time to get used to each other and become "friends."
Move to a new address
Once they have bonded, move your pup and his new friends to a larger enclosure with the rest of your goats. If your pup slips out of the enclosure following his natural instinct to explore, take him back and encourage him to remain with the goats. You may need to use a few treats to reach the point at which he doesn't stray.
You may have to repeat this part of the training over several days until he makes the choice to stay with "his" flock. Once this happens, be sure to offer lots of praise and treats. Once he learns to be a true protector, going out and patrolling his borders is an accepted behavior as he will always have the safety of his flock on his mind.
Try with strangers
The final stage of this training is to have a few people your pup doesn't know come to your farm and approach the goats. Your dog should move towards them and bark at them, scaring them off. Have your friends make a hasty retreat when he barks, tell him to 'hush', and then heap on the praise and treats.
By PB Getz
Published: 11/17/2017, edited: 01/08/2021